Adam and Eve at the feast

Christianity, unlike Judaism, has based itself and its view of sin and salvation on the story of the first sin.

A wedding is without doubt the most joyous event in Judaism. The sheva brachot - seven blessings - recited there and during the following week is a beautiful compilation that expresses Judaism's basic concept of marriage, its sacredness and its part in God's scheme for human life. One of the unusual parts of these blessings is the mention of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We ask God to make the new couple rejoice as Adam and Eve did. Considering the fact that Adam and Eve sinned and were punished, this seems a strange theme to introduce at such a happy time. Of course, the reference is to the time before the sin, not after it. Nevertheless, the presence of this reference requires some explanation. We should ask ourselves the question: How does Jewish tradition regard this first human couple? Their story (beginning in Genesis 2:4) describes the way in which a man is formed from the dust and a woman created from the body of that man. The story probes into the mystery of human life and the human psyche. It has served to answer some basic questions about human life, although it has been interpreted very differently by different religions. It would seem obvious that this story was needed to provide an answer to the question of why life is so difficult in a world that is supposedly so good. It teaches that this was not God's plan, but rather a result of human disobedience. It explains why women suffer pains when giving birth, why men have to work hard to make the earth produce food. Indeed the earth itself was cursed because of human sin. Christianity, unlike Judaism, has based itself and its view of sin and salvation on the story of the first sin. All human beings suffer because of it and, according to Christian belief, cannot free themselves of this except through belief in their messiah. Judaism has taken a much less severe view. In the Torah itself there seems to be an indication of mitigation of the punishment. Concerning Noah, utilizing a play on the letters of his name, the Torah says, "This one shall comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands concerning the earth that the Lord has cursed" (Genesis 5:29). Rabbinic interpretation has gone out of its way to lighten the seriousness of the sin and the severity of the punishment. For example, it interprets the words "in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread" (3:19) not as a curse, but as God's answer to Adam who, when he hears that he will have to eat the grass of the field (3:18), complains, "Shall my beast and I eat the same way?" God responds, "No, you can stand up and eat in the sweat of your face." Similarly, the midrash teaches that Adam and Eve were expelled before Shabbat so that they could spend the first night out of Eden on Shabbat, when they could enjoy the joy and rest of Shabbat (See Avot D'Rabbi Natan). The sin of Adam and Eve is mentioned in the piyut Amitz Koah which is recited on Yom Kippur. It describes the creation of Adam, the command that he not eat of the tree of knowledge and then tells how he disobeyed and was punished, as were the woman and the serpent. Adam's sin, however, is not singled out as the cause of all guilt. Rather it is the first in a series of human failings. The poem goes on to describe the sin of Cain and that of the generation of the flood, continuing with God choosing Abraham. The poem places the Yom Kippur service within a context. Human beings from the beginning have disobeyed and therefore require a way of atoning which Yom Kippur provides. Adam and Eve were the first, but not the last. In many ways Amitz Koah is reminiscent of Milton's Paradise Lost - but with a difference. Milton writes: "Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe..." It may be that all of this is Judaism's way of countering the Christian concept of original sin and of making sure that we do not consider marriage and sexual relations as somehow connected to sin. It is not accidental then that Adam and Eve are mentioned in the marriage ceremony and the birkat hamazon recited at wedding feasts in such a positive way. It is another indication that as far as Judaism is concerned there is no "original sin." Adam and Eve did not bring about "all our woe." Their union was not connected to sin. They are merely symbolic of all human beings who begin as innocents but soon fall into disobedience and sin. The writer is an author and lecturer who serves as the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement.